Memory Problems or Confusion

 

The memory problems and confusion that sometimes accompany treatment can be frustrating. Hear how Robin H. managed to deal with this unexpected challenge.

Various lymphoma treatments or supportive care treatments may impair your cognitive function. High doses of chemotherapy or other supportive care medications (such as anti-inflammatory medications), can often affect the brain and lead to something known as “chemo-brain”, “brain fog”, or “cancer-related cognitive disorder”. Radiation therapy in or near the brain or intrathecal chemotherapy (treatment confined to cerebrospinal fluid [CSF], which is used very rarely in certain times of lymphoma) can affect the brain and spinal cord. You may notice difficulties:

  • Concentrating or paying attention
  • Remembering new things
  • Recalling old memories
  • Saying the right words

Keep in mind, even though you may notice changes such as the feeling of “fogginess” or minor cognitive issues such as forgetfulness, for the most part this does not results in a loss of brain function (ie, the ability to get through common daily tasks).

For most patients, these symptoms will get better in the months following the completion of treatment. For others, particularly older or very young patients who have received high doses of radiation to their brain, these symptoms may get worse. If you continue to experience these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you manage your thoughts and memory:

  • Write down tasks: use a daily calendar to record important tasks you need to accomplish each day
  • Set reminders: set alarms or reminders on your smart phone or write down reminders on sticky notes around the housefor important tasks or appointments
  • Talk through tasks: to help you remember each step in more complicated multi-step tasks try talking through them out loud
  • Group numbers: to remember a long chain of numbers such as phone numbers, account numbers, or addresses, try grouping them into pairs (eg, 5275 can become “fifty-two, seventy-five”)
  • Plan ahead: before going to a social event, try thinking of what you wish to talk about
  • Repeat: try to repeat important facts or tasks aloud as repetition helps the mind retain information
  • Reduce stress: stress can often worsen your ability to think; learn to relax and stay calm

Keep in mind that your lymphoma treatment or supportive care treatment may not be the only cause for these symptoms. Other types of medication such as those for ongoing anxiety or depression, or an onset of menopause can also contribute to memory problems or confusion. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

References:

Canadian Cancer Society. Late and long-term effects of treatment
Accessed June 3, 2014

Lymphoma Association. Late effects of lymphoma treatment
Accessed June 3, 2014

National Cancer Institute. Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment. Ways to Manage Physical Changes
Accessed June 3, 2014